Thursday, November 11, 2010

What lesson did we learn?

The Illinois General Assembly may well try to take on the bill concerning the concept of “civil unions” when they return to the Statehouse next week, yet I think it more interesting to try to figure out what lessons were learned from last week’s election cycle.
How bloodied will this battleground become over civil unions?

For it seems that no lesson was truly learned. Everybody wants to have their own beliefs reinforced to the point that it likely will become impossible for people to work together on any issue.

WHAT CAUGHT MY attention was a Chicago Sun-Times report about the civil unions issue, where backers say they are going to try to get a bill passed by the state Legislature during the fall session that begins Tuesday.

Of course, the concept has its critics – including several religious organizations that are claiming opposition on so-called moral grounds. Catholic Conference of Illinois officials went so far as to tell the newspaper that “civil unions” might as well be gay marriage – a concept they vehemently oppose.

They also brought up the results of elections in Iowa, where three state Supreme Court justices who were perceived as supportive of gay marriage failed to get enough votes to be recalled to service on the high court.

The implication being that anybody who votes in favor of a measure that gives respect to gay people as people faces the threat of an angry hoard of homophobic voters come the 2012 election cycle.

ACTUALLY, IF THAT were a legitimate factor, then this fall veto session (before the newly-elected Legislature even takes effect) is the perfect time to bring this issue up. Because we’re talking two full years between the time of the political act, and the votes being cast.

There may well be some people who will bitterly hold a grudge and keep it in the backs of their minds (too bad it couldn’t stay there) that people voting “aye” on civil unions need to be removed from office. I suspect a majority will have moved on, with some finding other reasons to want to dump incumbent members.

But it really isn’t a legitimate factor. In fact, one of the characteristics of a responsible public official is an ability to determine when a public “majority” is really just an “angry mob” whose desires ought to be ignored for the good of society.

Which would make me hope that state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, is capable of finding enough support to get this measure through – if for no other reason than to show those elements of our society that their time of prevailing in our thoughts is truly in the past.

IT STRUCK ME as a little odd that the civil union critics brought up the Supreme Court of Iowa as an example of what happens to public officials (including judges) who don’t behave in an ideologically conservative enough manner.

Then again, those same ideologues probably don’t want to think about the Supreme Court in their own state of Illinois, which in this election cycle went through its own partisan political fight.

While special interests were able to stir up resentment against the Iowa high court and get three judges dumped, an effort by business interests that want an ideologically conservative high court in Illinois went down to failure.

Remember Thomas Kilbride? He’s still the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, and will remain on the state’s high court for another decade after taking about two-thirds of the vote. And we’re not talking votes coming from Cook County. The people who voted in this particular election came from a swath of central Illinois counties that all backed Bill Brady for governor.

OUR OWN STATE’S voters rejected an ideological effort to alter our high court’s partisan balance (and yes, our court has a 4-3 Democrat/Republican split). I’d think that makes us a little different than Iowa, where local voters gave in to the rancid rhetoric that all too often crops up whenever political people deal with issues related to gay people.

Which really makes me view the Iowa “threat” as a cheap threat that we’d be better off ignoring.

Now I don’t know if this particular bill is going to make it through the Legislature this time around. I suspect that the longer officials wait, the less likely something is to occur. Which would make now the time to finally do something (instead of letting this become one of those perennial issues that crops up in Springfield every two years with nothing happening).

I also will admit to agreeing with the Catholic Conference when it says that civil unions and actual marriage for gay people are “practically the same.”

SO WHAT?!? I have always thought those political people who say they support civil unions, but not gay marriage (including President Barack Obama), were just being ridiculous and making a phony effort to appeal to the conservative ideologues – one which I doubt ever works.

As far as civil unions go, if it means we’re acknowledging the idea that people are entitled to a certain amount of respect and dignity, and that we’re infringing upon someone’s ability (it’s not a right) to have someone to look down upon, then it probably is a good thing.

Particularly since the bottom line on this issue is that the idea of two people partnering up in their lives is really their business, and not ours.


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